Beginning of ROTJ
The bounty hunter Boushh slid up to the carbon frozen body of the smuggler. Quietly as possible, he released the switch and lowered the casing that held the encased form. Checking the controls, he pressed the switches. Humming began, and the carbonite melted from the agonized face of the Corellian. Han Solo slumped lifelessly to the ground. Boushh quickly bent down and turned the smuggler over, checking for life signs. The bounty hunter slumped in relief. Solo's eyes snapped open, and he coughed.
"Where am I?" a disoriented Solo asked. "I can't see!"
Can't see? The hunter felt panic. Why can't he see? The doctors said he would be ill, confused, nauseated. They did not mention his eyes!
"You are in Jabba's Palace," the hunter whispered, trying to stay calm. The hunter deliberately did not answer Solo's question about his eyesight. "We must move quickly if we are to leave here."
"I'm not going anywhere with you. Who are you?"
The hunter removed his helmet. "Someone who loves you," Leia whispered, leaning down and kissing him. Still, Leia couldn't stop thinking, why can't he see?
"Leia!" Han gasped in relief, right before Jabba's laughter filled the room. "I know that laugh."
Bargaining with Jabba proved impossible, and the lovers were quickly torn apart. Han stumbled sightlessly through the halls, unaware that Lando Calrissian was one of the guards escorting him. The former administrator of Cloud City was also trembling with apprehension as he wondered, Why can't Han see?
Roughly, Han was thrown into a cell. Standing in a puddle of dank water, a roar filled the room. "Chewie!" Han cried out in relief as hairy arms enfolded him. "Careful pal, I can't see."
My cub can't see? Chewbacca the Wookiee did not like the sound of that.
Han sat slumped in the corner of the Skiff barge as the bedraggled group headed back to the Falcon. Amazingly enough, his rescue had been successful. Han was trembling with exhaustion, and not yet over the nausea brought on by his time in carbonite. He didn't know how he'd managed to knock Fett into the Sarlacc pit, but that moment had definitely felt good. He was less certain how he felt about his part in saving Lando, his so-called friend. If it weren't for Lando, Han felt he would never have needed rescuing from carbonite in the first place. And now he couldn't see. The thought of blindness made his heart race with fear. It's temporary, he told himself. The doctors will fix me right up. I know it's just temporary.
He lifted his head slightly as someone sat next to him. A small hand took hold of his and squeezed his fingers.
"How are you feeling?" Leia asked.
"Ok, I guess," Han lied.
Leia could hear Han's voice shaking, and despite the heat his fingers felt clammy. She was deeply worried about him.
The Corellian felt as she brushed her fingers through his hair and lean her head against his chest. He put his arm around the petite princess' waist. "What are you wearing?" he asked, feeling her bare skin against his hand.
Leia was glad he couldn't see her blushing. "Jabba has really poor taste in women's clothing," she answered glibly.
Han felt himself tense with anger, imagining what she must have gone through on his behalf. "I'm sorry," he rasped. "Did he hurt you?"
"No. He probably would have, but he didn't have much time. I was just humiliated, but I'll live."
"I'm sorry," Han repeated, his head hanging down.
Leia had never seen Han like this before. She'd felt his heart pounding when she'd rested her head against him, and she knew he was truly frightened. Truthfully, Leia was frightened for him.
"Han?" Leia said slowly. "It will be all right. The doctors will be able to help your eyes."
Han raised his head and forced a lopsided grin on his face. "I know that, sweetheart. Hey, after this run of bad luck, things have gotta turn around for me, right?"
"Right, flyboy," Leia said with a laugh, then kissed his cheek.
Rebel Medical Frigate
Han had been undergoing test after test for two long days. He lay on a medical bed, resting and worrying after yet another drawn-out medical procedure. Han heard the door open, and instinctively turned his head toward the sound. A breeze brushed his face, and soft lips pressed briefly against his cheek.
"Hey, Han," Leia said softly. "How are you doing today?"
Han forced a smile he didn't feel, and struggled into a sitting position. "Like a laboratory experiment gone wrong. Why haven't the doctors figured anything out yet? What's the problem?" Han knew he was sounding whiny, and he hated himself for coming across as ungrateful.
"They're trying, Han, truly. You have to understand that there haven't been very many cases of humans surviving carbonite. Most of the victims either died, or when they were unfrozen are hopelessly insane," Leia told him, understanding his frustration. She was frustrated herself.
"Well, I guess ya didn't have to worry about the crazy part." Han tried smirking. "You always thought I was a nutcase before Bespin."
"Very funny, laserbrain," Leia teased back. She looked over to a tray, and noticed the food he had been brought was sitting untouched. "Why haven't you eaten?" she asked, her tone becoming serious.
"I'm not hungry." Han shifted slightly, uncomfortable with the lie. On the way back to base after Tatooine, Han had simply been too ill to eat, drinking only small amounts of water. It suddenly became clear to Leia the true reason for Han's reluctance to eat. He was afraid of spilling food and drink on himself, thus causing himself embarrassment.
"Han, I can help you," Leia said gently, hoping he wouldn't become defensive.
"I don't need help!" Han shot back.
Leia sighed. Well, you know how stubborn he is. Good thing I can be just as strong-willed as he is! The determined Princess brought the food tray to her side and picked up a soft dinner roll. "You can eat this easily enough," she informed him, taking his hand and placing the roll in his palm.
Han would have argued with her, but he realized with dismay how hungry he was. He complied with her order and ate the roll, taking extra care not to allow crumbs to fall on his chest. Leia watched him eat, feeling a rush of love and compassion, knowing how he hated being so helpless. Deciding to push her luck, she picked up a fork and picked up some of the stew, then held it near his lips. "I never thought I'd say this, but open your mouth, nerfherder."
Puzzled, Han turned his head toward her and started to ask, "What?", but he never got the word completed. Acting quickly, Leia pushed the stew into his mouth. Han's mouth closed and before he could formulate much of a response. Leia pulled the fork out and ordered him to chew and swallow. Frowning, and aware the only alternative was spitting it out, he obeyed.
"There, that wasn't so hard now, was it?" Leia said with a laugh, picking up more stew on the fork.
"I don't want to be fed like a baby, Leia!" Han snapped, angry that she would trick him.
"You are acting like a baby, so what is the difference?" Leia retorted. Han abruptly turned his head away from her, his face flushing with anger.
"Han Solo!" Leia said firmly. "If you do not turn your head back and eat this meal, I will tell the doctors to force-feed you intravenously. Is that what you'd prefer?" Leia realized she was starting to yell, and lowered her voice. "You have to eat!"
Han's face remained turned from her for several long, quiet seconds. He finally turned back to her and said in a defeated tone, "Fine. Feed me. It's not like I have much choice in anything, is there?"
The Princess felt her annoyance drain away. She blinked back tears and reached over, kissing his forehead. "It's just for a little while, Han," she reassured him quietly.
For the remainder of the meal, Han didn't speak. The only sound came from the clinking of the fork against the plate, and Leia's soft voice telling Han when she was holding another mouthful near his lips. When the meal was over, Leia pushed aside the cart. "Han, I need to tell you something important."
Here it comes, Han thought with dread. She doesn't love you, and now she has to break it to you gently.
When he remained silent, Leia continued. "The Empire is building another Death Star."
That was not what Han had been expecting. "What!? Where is it?" The sullen silence of the meal was quickly forgotten as this terrible news sank in.
"It's above Endor," Leia continued. "We need to destroy it before it's completed." At this point, Leia paused briefly, uncertain how Han was going to handle the next part. "Luke and I have volunteered to go down to Endor with a team and take out the generator that's protecting the Death Star. Lando and Wedge are leading a squadron against the Battle Station itself."
"You can't be serious, Leia!" Han raised his voice. "That's too dangerous… you can't go!"
"Keep your voice down, Han," Leia said softly. "I have to go. This is a vital mission that has to be done. The Emperor himself is going to be aboard the Station. If we succeed, we will win the war."
"I don't like it," Han argued. "I... I don't want to lose you." He knew he was fighting a lost cause. Leia would be going, with or without his blessing. If she died….
"You won't lose me, Han," Leia said with a smile, almost like she was reading his thoughts.
"Will you at least take Chewie with you?" Han asked. "I'll feel a whole lot better about this mission if you do."
"You'll have to be the one to ask him," Leia said. "He's being very protective of you right now."
Han smiled sheepishly. "I know… the big oaf. He thinks I can't manage without him. Don't you worry; I'll get him to go with you if I have to threaten to let loose a jar of Tatooine sand fleas in his mangy pelt."
The young rebel finished wrapping Leia's arm with a bandage as his attention was caught by a flash in the sky. Leia looked up at the exploding Death Star and smiled. Luke had made it off the Battle Station. Her brother was alive, and the Emperor was dead, and the objective the Princess had been aiming for most of her life was accomplished. She should have felt like cheering, but instead, a nagging fear kept tickling at the back of her neck. How am I going to tell Han about my father? Leia worried. The man responsible for his blindness is my father. Her fears were temporarily pushed aside as celebrating Humans, Ewoks, and a certain large Wookiee caught the Princess up in their joy.
Later that evening, Leia embraced Luke as he entered the forest clearing. She stepped back and looked into his eyes - he seemed so tired and sad. "Luke, are you okay?" Leia asked. "What happened up there?"
"I'm fine, Leia," Luke answered, his voice weary. "It's a very long story. I'll tell you later."
Leia nodded. "I need to get up to the Medical Frigate. Is Lando back yet?"
"I saw the Falcon in the landing area," Luke replied. "I still can't believe Han let Lando use his ship."
Leia smiled. "He wanted Lando to have the best chance possible against the Death Star. He's changed, Luke, and I believe he is going to stay with us. But I'm still so worried about him. He's scared, and too stubborn to admit it."
Luke returned his sister's smile. "Well, if he is still so stubborn, maybe he hasn't changed all that much. Let's go find Chewie and head up to the Frigate."
Leia walked with Luke into the wing of the Medical Frigate that housed Han Solo, with Chewie tagging behind them. The human doctor Leia recognized as the one that had been treating Han for the past three days stopped them before they could turn down the corridor. "Princess, I need to discuss something with you." The doctor looked at Luke and Chewie, as if he were undecided if he should speak in front of them.
"Please continue Dr. Bayliss," Leia stated. "Chewie is Han's oldest friend, and Luke is a close friend as well."
The doctor nodded. "We have run every test possible on Captain Solo," the doctor said quietly. "I'm afraid the news is not good."
Chewie let loose with a loud roar, and the doctor took a quick step backwards. Luke quickly put his hand on the Wookiee's arm. "Chewie, let the doctor continue. Please?"
Eyeing the huge Wookiee nervously, the doctor continued. "Captain Solo will not be able to see again, ever. I'm truly sorry."
Leia only dimly heard Chewie roar again, and felt her legs go weak. She leaned her hand against the wall for support, and managed to ask, "Why?"
"It's not his eyes, I'm afraid," the doctor explained. "It's the portion of his brain that accepts the information from the eyes. That area of the brain has been damaged by the freezing process. It can't be repaired. I am truly sorry, but it could have been worse."
"How?" Leia asked with a gasp. "How could it possibly be worse?" She felt as if the room were spinning, and was vaguely aware of Luke putting his arm around her for support.
"All other portions of his brain are fine. The freezing could have, but did not, destroy those other areas. Areas that retain memory, speech, motor skills are all fine," the doctor stated. "Unfortunately, even implants to aid sight loss will not help him see."
Leia's heart was pounding, and tears were threatening, but she knew she couldn't break down. Not now, not when Han would need her strength. He would need love and support from all of them, and Leia was suddenly determined to give him all that, and more. "Does he know?" she whispered the question.
"Yes," the doctor said. "It is not my policy to keep the facts from my patients."
"How did he take it?" Luke asked finally finding his voice. This seemed so unreal. He could not imagine his outgoing, independent friend so permanently disabled.
"He just listened to me explain the facts," the doctor answered. "He didn't say one word until after I was finished talking, except to thank me for being honest with him. Then he asked to be left alone."
Leia turned toward a grief-stricken Chewie. "Chewie, can I please see Han first, alone?"
Chewie nodded and embraced Leia so tightly her ribs complained.
Leia knocked briefly, then entered Han's room when he didn't respond. Her stomach clenched when she saw him with his eyes wide open, staring sightlessly at the ceiling. His face was pale and he didn't acknowledge her presence. "Han?" Leia whispered. When he still didn't respond, the Princess walked over to his still form, took his hand, and sat down on the side of his bed. "I love you, Han," Leia said, trying to keep the trembling from her voice.
"Really, Leia?" Han answered, his voice was toneless.
"How can you question that?" she asked him, trying to keep her voice steady.
"If you love me, prove it," he responded harshly.
"How, Han?" Leia asked, her throat tight. "Tell me what you want."
"I want you to get me a blaster, and let me finish what Vader started," Han said bitterly, shutting his useless eyes.
"I won't do that - you know I won't," Leia responded sadly. How is he going to react when he hears who my father was? she worried. The Princess tried to lay her head against his chest, but he pushed her roughly away.
"Then you can leave. I don't want you here," Han spat out.
Leia sat up, unable to keep the tears from falling down her cheeks. "I know you're upset," she tried to console him. "But you can't push me out of your life, Han. I refuse to leave."
"You know I'm upset?" Han gave a harsh laugh. "My life is over, your Highness. Finished! I have nothing left! I was a pilot, a damn good pilot, and nothing more. Now I'm ....worthless," he finished, saying the final word so softly Leia barely heard him.
"I love you Han. You're not worthless...."
"Get out of here!" Han screamed as he interrupted. "I don't love you, so quit sayin' that to me! I hate you, Your Highness! I was just tryin' to see if a smuggler could bed a fancy princess, and you're no more important to me than the hundreds of other women I've had, so... get....lost!"
Han heard Leia gasp. "I told Luke that you'd changed. I guess I was wrong!" She turned and fled the room.
He hated himself more in that instant than he ever had before in his entire life.
Moments later, Chewie came storming into Han's room, furious. *How could you treat her like that? Do you have any idea how much time she spent looking for you when you were lost to us? She loves you, and you treat her like dirt! I would like to rip your arms out!* he roared.
Han didn't flinch from the Wookiee's wrath. "Go ahead if it makes you happy. Rip my arms out. I don't care."
Chewie's rage lessened at seeing Han's apathy, but the anger didn't completely leave. *She loves you,* he repeated.
"I care for her, too," Han admitted to his friend, unable to bring himself to say the word 'love.' "And that's why I ain't stickin' her with me. She has her entire life ahead of her, Chewie. I'll be nothin' more than a huge burden, a weight around her neck. She deserves happiness, and I can't give it to her. Not anymore."
*Why can't you let her make that decision, Cub?*
"'Cause I know her," Han said sadly. "She's loyal, pal. Too damn loyal. She won't leave me unless I make her hate me. She'll stick with me, and end up resenting and hating me eventually, anyway. It's better this way, ending it now, before I ruin her life."
*I think you are wrong, Han," Chewie woofed softly. *You are underestimating her.*
Han refused to discuss the matter further. He had made up his very stubborn Corellian mind, and Chewie knew only time, or circumstance, could change it.
Leia had fled the Medical Frigate, and gone to her quarters aboard the Mon Calamari cruiser. She lay curled up in the bed trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep. Her swirling thoughts and emotions would not let sleep come.
A soft chime sounded. Leia sighed, got out of bed, put a robe on and answered the door. "Luke," she said slightly surprised. "What brings you here so late?"
"Can I come in?" Luke asked. "I know it's late."
"Never too late for you," Leia said with a smile. She stepped aside and let him in.
"Have a seat." She motioned to a chair pushed by a table, and sat down opposite him.
"You asked what happened aboard the Death Star," Luke began. "Do you still want to hear it?"
"Of course," Leia answered.
Luke proceeded to tell his sister, in great detail, about the fight aboard the Station, and the eventual outcome. He felt drained and relieved once he'd told her the entire story. "I still feel so guilty that I left you on Endor," Luke concluded. "I endangered the entire mission."
Leia had listened intently, never interrupting Luke's narration. Once he was done, she reached over the table and took his hand. "You did the right thing, Luke," Leia said fervently. "You have a good heart and your intentions are true. Never doubt yourself."
Luke squeezed Leia's fingers lightly. "Father turned back to the Light in the end, Leia. You need to know that."
Abruptly, Leia pulled her hand away. Avoiding Luke's eyes, she said, "I will never accept that .... machine as my father. Look at what he did to us. He tortured me, he cut off your hand, and now Han will never see again because of him."
"I know the past can't be changed, Leia," her brother said quietly. "But I've forgiven Anakin Skywalker. Someday, you will find it in your heart to forgive him, also."
Leia stood up and walked over to her window. She watched Luke's reflection as he came up behind her. "Han told me he hated me," Leia said softly.
"Do you really believe he meant that?" Luke asked. "Or is this ordeal making him say things he doesn't truly mean?"
"He wants to push me away," she answered. "I don't think he hates me…yet,"
"Once he finds out who my father is, he will hate me," Leia answered. "And I won't blame him."
Luke put his hand on his sister's shoulder, and she turned into his embrace.
Four days later
Luke went to the Medical Frigate early in the morning, and Dr. Bayliss greeted the young Jedi. "Good morning, Luke. I need to discuss something with you before you see Captain Solo, since the Princess has not been around lately."
Luke was surprised the doctor wanted to talk to him, but he stopped and listened.
"First, other than Captain Solo's eyesight, he's in fine physical health," the doctor began. "He will need to be given some permanent quarters on another ship, or return to his own ship. I'm afraid we need the room for other patients."
"I think that can be easily arranged, Dr. Bayliss," Luke said. "Han will be more than happy to leave a medical ward, I can guarantee that."
"Also," the doctor added, "I believe Captain Solo should get follow-up care. He needs specialists who can train him to adapt to his new situation. And it wouldn't hurt if he had counseling sessions."
"That might be a more difficult request, doctor," Luke answered wryly. "I completely agree with you, but if I know Han, convincing him to accept help is going to be very hard."
"Perhaps between his Wookiee friend and you and the Princess, you can strong-arm him into accepting assistance," the doctor said with a small smile. "I hope for his sake he can be convinced."
Luke watched as the doctor walked away, and continued to Han's room. The Corellian was sitting in a chair, his eyes closed.
"Han?" Luke said softly, not wanting to startle his friend.
"Good morning, Luke," Han answered glumly. "Is it your turn to force-feed me breakfast?"
"Actually I'm here to take you to the Falcon, if you're ready to leave this cozy room," Luke joked. That got Han's attention.
"Are you serious?" he asked. "I can leave?"
"You'll have to shave and dress first, but yes, you can leave," Luke replied. He watched as Han's emotions play across his face. His long-time friend was all too happy to leave, but the idea of shaving and dressing threw him.
"Are my clothes here?" he asked cautiously.
Luke went over to the small closet and removed Han's cleaned clothing and boots. "Looks like everything is present and accounted for, Han."
Slowly, Han stood up and placed his hand on the wall, walking with extreme care toward Luke's voice. When he rounded the end of the bed, Luke took his arm. "First, let me shave you, and don't argue," Luke said in a clipped tone. The young Jedi knew he was being slightly hard on Han, but it was probably for the best he didn't allow space to argue. The strategy seemed to work, because Han allowed himself to be lead into the refresher and sat on a small chair while Luke shaved him. Once Han was shaved, Luke led him back into the room.
"Here are your pants," Luke instructed. "Sit on the edge of the bed, and I'll hand you your things so you can get dressed. Don't worry, I won't let you put something on backwards."
"Has anybody ever told you you're bossy, kid?" Han asked, feeling a bit peeved.
"Not really, but there's a first time for everything," Luke quipped back.
Keeping an eye on Han while he slowly dressed, Luke turned on his comlink. A soft whuffing came over the small speaker.
"Chewie, it's Luke. Don't come to the medical ward. I'm going to be bringing Han to the Falcon. They're letting him check out," Luke informed the Wookiee.
Luke heard a happy bark, and looked to Han for interpretation. "What did he say?"
"He said they're probably kicking me out on my sorry butt," Han replied.
Luke gave a laugh. "You're right, Chewie. Don't worry if we're not there right away. I'm going to take the scenic route. Luke out."
"Scenic route?" Han was suddenly suspicious. "Where are you taking me?"
"You'll see," was Luke's cryptic reply.
Luke led Han to a shuttle and left the Medical Frigate behind. It had taken quite some time just to get to the shuttle area. Han had walked very slowly, and by the time they were seated in the shuttle, Luke could tell Han was drained, both physically and emotionally. "I can't get over how fast I get tired," Han complained. "That was just a short walk!"
"It's probably more mentally tiring than anything, Han," Luke explained. "Your mind is struggling to adjust to a new and difficult situation. It's putting a strain on you physically."
Han was quiet for a moment, feeling the vibration of the shuttle beneath his boots. "Was everyone staring at me?" he asked tentatively.
"I don't think anyone even noticed us, Han," Luke replied. People had given them brief glances, but since they hadn't passed anyone they knew, Luke figured he wasn't lying to his friend.
"Where are we going?" Han finally asked.
"Down to Endor," Luke answered truthfully. "That's where the Falcon is parked, Han."
"Is Leia there, too?" The fact that Leia hadn't come to visit him for the past four days hadn't gone unnoticed, even if he had been the cause of her absence.
"Last I checked, she was on the main battle cruiser," Luke answered. "She was pretty upset by what you said to her."
Han felt his face warm with shame, and didn't reply to Luke.
The shuttle landed in a clearing on Endor, and Luke guided Han outside. Han was surprised at the intense, earthy smells of the forest, and the sweet tang of pine needles. It was also a noisy place, with sounds of birds and wildlife surrounding them. The Corellian reflected that these were things he would've barely noticed if he had vision. His other senses seemed to be trying to take up the slack. "Is it safe here?" Han questioned.
Luke laughed and replied, "You're with a Jedi. You're safe, trust me."
"That's my line, kid," Han teased back. "No stealing."
They walked with Luke holding Han's elbow lightly, using the Force to push aside any sticks and rocks that might trip the Corellian. The few times Han stumbled, Luke's gentle use of the Force ensured Solo did not fall. After twenty minutes, Han finally complained. "How far did you land from the Falcon? Wasn't there any place closer?"
"We're not heading to the Falcon."
"What!? Where the hell are you leading me?" Han yelled at his friend. It flashed past his mind that perhaps Luke was so mad at him about Leia that he was going to kill him. But then wasn't that what he wanted… to die?
"We're here, Han," Luke announced with a grin.
"Where is 'here?'"
"Listen," Luke ordered him. Han stopped arguing and listened. Loud splashing water. They were close enough that he could feel the cool mist on his face.
"Yes!" Luke gave a happy yelp. "A waterfall and a pool. We're going for a swim!"
"Have you lost your sandblasted mind, kid?" Han snapped. "I ain't going for no swim!"
"Yes, you are," Luke informed him. "You can either cooperate, or I'll throw you in with the Force, clothes, boots and all. Your choice." Luke began to remove his clothing, and placed them neatly on a nearby boulder. Han stood speechless and unmoving. He couldn't understand the motive behind his insane friend's behavior.
"You have one minute to start undressing, Han," Luke warned. "It's going to be a long walk to the Falcon in wet boots."
"If you were standing closer, I swear I'd haul off and belt you, Skywalker!" Han ripped off his shirt and threw it in Luke's general direction. Luke only laughed and picked up Han's tossed clothing and folded them. Finally he was standing before Luke wearing only his shorts.
"I'm not wearing anything, Han," Luke said smirking. "No one is around for miles, and I promise I won't tell anyone we know how under-endowed you are compared to me."
"I ain't under-endowed!" Han growled, and slid off his shorts, nearly falling over in his haste. Luke only laughed harder. Then the Jedi reached over and grabbed Han's wrist tightly, pulling him quickly toward the pond. Using a Force-enhanced leap, Luke yelled "Jump!" and both men went careening into the clear water.
Han came up sputtering and wiping water from his face. "It's damn cold!"
"It only feels cold because the air is so much warmer," Luke gulped. "We'll get use to it."
"How'd you ever learn to swim? You grew up on a sandpit with no water."
"I taught myself back on Yavin," Luke explained. "I love swimming, probably because I grew up on a sandpit. Come on; let's swim the length of the pond a couple of times." Luke tugged Han's arm in the direction he wanted to go, then started swimming. Giving an exasperated sigh, Han followed. After a couple of laps, Han was gasping for air, and Luke stopped, not wanting to send his friend back to the Medical Frigate. Chewie and Leia would kill him if he caused Han to have a relapse.
"Are you still mad at me?" Luke asked, after they had pulled themselves up on some shallow rocks.
"I'm not mad," Han answered. "Just confused. What's the purpose of all this?"
"Two reasons. The first reason is to show you that you are alive. Life can still be enjoyable, Han. You don't have to crawl into a corner and pull a blanket up over your head."
Ashamed, Han turned his face away. "I'm sorry for what I said to Leia. I was a real jerk."
"No kidding. You need to apologize to her, not me."
"I don't want her stuck with an invalid, Luke," Han said sadly. "I want her to be happy. She could be happy with you."
"In the first place, Han, you are not an invalid," Luke argued gently. "You're going to have to relearn a lot of things, but you can, and you will. You're not going to be a burden to anyone, believe me. And the second thing, Leia can't be happy with me, because she's my sister."
This announcement shocked Han. Luke waited for the information to sink in before he continued. "My Jedi Master Yoda told me this while I was training with him on Dagobah. Somehow, I think I knew it all along."
"Does Leia know?" Han managed to ask.
"Yes. I told her during the mission, five days ago. But there's more you need to know."
"More?" Han choked out. How could there be more? This was already mind-boggling.
"Leia's afraid once you find out this next part, you'll hate her," Luke warned. "She's spent days crying because of this fear."
Han felt himself grow cold, even though the air was very warm. "I won't hate her, Luke," he promised. "Just tell me."
Luke took a deep breath and continued. "I found out on Bespin, when I came to try and rescue you, that Darth Vader was my father."
It took a moment to sink in, but Han understood. "So, Vader is Leia's father." It wasn't a question. "She must be devastated." Han was feeling like a bigger heel with each passing minute. Leia had needed his support, and he'd pushed her away, told her he hated her. "I can't believe I said those things to her. She must hate me."
"Isn't that what you want, Han?" Luke questioned his friend gently. "For Leia to hate you?"
Han shook his head sadly. "No, kid. If I lost her, my life would truly be over."
Luke smiled and stood up. His faith in Han had been justified. "Let's get dressed and head back to the Falcon. I don't know about you, but I'm starving."
Letti the Hutt looked at the ruins of the sail barge that had belonged to his uncle, Jabba. He shook his great head, and rumbled to the bounty hunter, Dengar, "All that Jabba owned is mine. This is a very good thing. But humans cannot think they can get away with killing a Hutt. Find Solo and bring him to me. This time, he will die long before his friends can rescue him."
Dengar grinned. He would find Solo, all right. But it would be on his own terms, and in his own style. After all, this was personal.
Han woke up from his nap disoriented. He sat up too quickly, which made his head spin, trying to figure out where he was. Sleep had not been easy for him since 'waking' from carbonite. Most of the time, horrific nightmares tore him from sleep, and without eyesight, it was difficult to tell whether he was awake, or still asleep and dreaming. The familiar feel of the bed, and the smell of the room reassured him he was in his own cabin, and he sighed in relief. It annoyed him that he was so exhausted from such a small amount of exercise. He got up carefully and felt his way to the refresher.
Ten minutes later he made his way down the hall of the Falcon as the smell of lunch made his stomach growl. He hadn't eaten breakfast, and when Luke finally got him to the Falcon, Han needed to rest far more than he needed to eat. Han heard voices. and listened closely. Leia was in the hold talking to Chewie. The fact she was onboard the Falcon was a good sign, but Han was still afraid to face her after the nasty things he'd said to her. Taking a deep breath, and using his hand to guide himself, he entered the hold. The conversation between Chewie and Leia halted. "Hey, something smells good in here," Han said, forcing a cheery tone into his voice. "Must not be Leia doing the cooking." He waited, wondering if she was going to throw something at him.
"One of these days, Solo," Leia said in mock warning, "I'm going to cook a ten-course dinner, have Chewie hold you down, then stuff the entire thing down your gullet."
Chewie roared in laughter, and Han found himself laughing along. Leia stood up and hugged him tightly. "How are you feeling?" she asked in concern. "Luke told me what he made you do. I could have beaned a rock off his skull, I was so irritated at him."
"It was okay, Leia," Han soothed her. "It was Luke's strange way of trying to shake some sense into me."
"Did it work?"
"I think it might've," Han replied. "I ... I need to tell you how sorry I am. I shouldn't have said those terrible things. I didn't mean any of it." He hesitated, then continued, uncertain how to express what he felt inside. "It's just so hard for me to accept ... the idea of not ever being able to see again, I can't explain....." He trailed off with a shrug of his shoulders.
"I forgive you, Han," Leia said softly. "I love you, and I'm never going to stop saying that, so you'd better get used to it."
Han gave a broad smile, feeling a tremendous weight lift from his shoulders. "I love you, too, Leia." He'd finally said the words, and it was a wonderful feeling, freeing him from invisible bonds he didn't even know had been shackling him.
Leia felt a surge of joy. He loves me! He said he loves me! She pulled his neck down to kiss him deeply, only stopping when Chewie left the hold with an embarrassed grunt.
"Luke told me he discussed Vader with you," Leia tentatively began once they were alone. "It seems so impossible to imagine that monster is my father." Leia stopped. Even talking about Vader made her sick.
"Leia, we can't pick our relatives." Han hugged her tightly. "I would never, in a million years, blame you for things someone else has done."
"Thank you," she murmured into his chest. Leia could have wept with joy. The past days and nights fearing the worst vanished.
"You don't have to thank me, sweetheart." He could feel her trembling, and tightened his hold on her. "After everything you did for me, I'm the one who should be thanking you." Han's fingers lightly grazed her face as he found her chin, tilted her head up and kissed her again, slowly and softly. He continued to lightly explore her face with his touch, since it was the only way he could 'see' her. Leia felt her heart begin to race with desire at his tender caress. She wondered how this would change him as a lover, then mentally berated herself for having such selfish thoughts when he was struggling to accept his blindness, and still so depressed.
They held each other silently for long minutes. "Where'd Luke go?" Han finally asked, reluctantly breaking the mood.
"He had to talk to Lando and Wedge about a supply run. The battle took a lot out of us. We need time to regroup before the next phase."
"The next phase being...?"
"We're going to move to Coruscant as soon as possible," she declared. "Before some power-hungry warlord decides to become the next Emperor."
Han nodded. It made sense to make the next move a bold one, and declare the Rebels had won the war.
Chewie reentered the hold after he decided he had waited an appropriately discreet amount of time, and started to place dishes of food on the table. He looked at Han with concern in his blue eyes. The Wookiee knew Han was trying to act upbeat, but he knew his friend too well. Han's adjustment would be a long and difficult road for all of them. Leia noticed Chewie's worried expression, then took Han gently by the arm and guided him to the table.
Han forced a smile on his face. "Time to feed me again?"
"This is nerf steak and tubers," Leia said, trying to keep her voice light. "I think if I cut it up for you, you can try to eat it yourself." She immediately noticed the stricken look on his face. "Han," she said gently as possible, "You need to start learning this sometime. I'll be here to help you, and no one is going to laugh if you drop something."
"I'll try, Leia" he reluctantly agreed, as the Princess squeezed his arm reassuringly. The meal proceeded surprisingly well, with the worst incidents being his food dropping prematurely from his fork. After lifting the empty utensil to his mouth for the fourth time, Han gave a dramatic sigh. "Eating air sure cuts down on the calories. I'll probably lose a lotta weight with this new diet."
Leia and Chewie exchanged amused looks and Leia decided it was time to broach the next subject. "Han? Luke told me Dr. Bayliss strongly suggested you receive professional help coping with this."
The Corellian's jaw became clenched, and his face set in stubborn lines. "I ain't goin' to a head doctor. I ain't crazy!"
The Princess sighed. "No one is saying you're crazy, Han. The professionals I am talking about are people trained in helping you relearn certain things. Like eating in public, and reading raised letters for the sight impaired. There are lots of things you're going to need to learn and adjust to."
Chewie woofed his agreement with the Princess. "Please, Han," Leia pleaded. "At least try. For me?"
Han folded his hands in his lap trying to remain calm. "I don't wanna go out in public. People will stare at me."
"You'll want to go out eventually," Leia insisted. "Once you get your confidence back."
"Fine," he snapped. "I'll try, okay? But I'm only doing this for you."
"Thank you," she said sincerely. As long as he agreed, Leia didn't care about his reasons.
Nervous and edgy, Lando walked with Luke back to the Falcon. "I haven't seen Han since they told him he wasn't going to see again, Luke. This is all my fault. He's going to want to kill me, and I don't blame him."
"You're going to have to see him sometime," Luke answered. "You might as well get it over with."
Lando shook his head, and followed Luke up the ramp, watching as Leia came running up to her brother as he stepped inside, hugging him tightly. "He agreed to accept help, Luke," Leia said happily.
Luke smiled at his sister. "I guess you were right. He has changed." Turning to Lando, he asked, "Do you want to see him alone, or with us as backup?"
"No, Luke, I'll take my lumps without an audience, if you don't mind."
Both Luke and Leia laughed at Lando's pained expression, then walked down the ramp into the forest. After a few moments, Leia commented, "I don't hear any blaster shots or screams. Maybe Han and Chewie won't kill him after all."
"Did Han recover from his little adventure with me this morning?" Luke asked, smiling.
"Yes. He probably thinks you lost your mind somewhere on Dagobah."
Luke laughed, and then grew serious. "Did the two of you get a chance to talk about our father?"
"He isn't my father, Luke," Leia shot back hotly. She waited for Luke to argue the point, but he said nothing, so Leia continued. "When I tried to talk about it, all he said was it didn't matter, and that no one can choose who their parents are." Tears welled up in her eyes, but she quickly blinked them back
"See?" Luke said gently. "I told you Han wouldn't hate you for something you have no control over."
Leia stopped and looked at the tall trees. "We take our eyesight so much for granted. I can't even begin to imagine being blind."
"Han's a strong person," Luke told her. "It won't ever be easy, but he'll survive."
Lando entered the Falcon's hold, and stopped when he saw Han sitting at the table while Chewie cleared dishes.
"Hi, Han," Lando said nervously, watching Chewie carefully. Please don't rip my arms off, he silently begged.
"Lando," Han stated flatly. Chewie gave a soft grunt, and stood next to his partner, as if he thought he might have to protect Han from Calrissian. Or maybe it was the other way around.
Lando shifted from one foot to the other before continuing. "I brought the Falcon back in one piece."
"You ripped the dish antenna off, too," Han snapped.
"I'll fix it, I swear," Lando promised.
"You can bet you'll fix it," Han groused.
"Han…" Lando tried to find the right words, but it was so difficult. "I know you hate me, and I don't blame you. If you want to, you can take your best shot at me, right now. I won't move an inch. I deserve it."
"Are you talking about a blaster shot, or my fist?"
"Uh...well, shooting me would really wreck my outfit, Han," Lando said worriedly.
Han snorted and Chewie gave a howl of laughter. Lando felt a rush of relief. Han may still be mad at him, but at least it didn't appear his life was in immediate danger. He heard footsteps coming down the hall, and smiled as Luke and Leia entered.
"I see you still have all your limbs, Lando," Luke joked.
"Don't think I wasn't concerned about it!" Calrissian shot back.
"We'd better get going," Luke told him. "Wedge is waiting for us to take off."
"Be careful, Luke," Leia said as she gave her brother a hug.
Late that night.
Leia woke to Han's screaming. Sitting up quickly, she shook off her own fear and grabbed him by his upper arms. "Han!" Leia yelled over his screams of terror. "Wake up!" She shook him as hard as she could. His sightless eyes snapped open and his screams became gasps. "Han? Are you awake?" Leia's voice was shaking. "Say something!"
He hunched forward and put his hands to his face. "I'm sorry, Leia," Han rasped, his breath coming in ragged gulps. "You don't need to deal with this. You don't need me."
"Let's not start this again, Han," Leia softly admonished. "I have nightmares too, you know."
"I wish I could see you," he said, his body trembling from the after-effects of the nightmare. "I want to look into your beautiful brown eyes, and I never will again."
Leia could see he was struggling to keep from crying. A lump formed in her throat and she lay down beside him, taking him into her arms. Softly stroking his head, she whispered, "You can cry, you know. It's allowed."
Han turned toward Leia and allowed the tears to come while she gently soothed him until sleep once again claimed them.
The Millennium Falcon arrived on the huge Mon Calamari cruiser the next morning, with Chewie piloting and Leia sitting in the co-pilot's seat. Han sat quietly in the navigator's chair, chewing his lip. It made him physically ill to think he would never fly his beloved ship again. After docking, Leia turned around and noticed the expression of grief on Han's face. She didn't need the Force to know exactly what he was thinking. Leia would not try to offer him sympathy; he would only get upset and regard it as pity. Luke had it pretty much correct - they would all need to try and treat him as normally as possible. "Your appointment with Dr. Deckat is in less than one hour. We don't have much time to get to her office."
"Doctor?" Han inquired with annoyance. "You told me she was a therapist. Someone who's gonna to help me learn how to do things without sight. Why is she a doctor?"
Leia held her patience with some effort. "She is also a Doctor of Psychology. The Rebellion was lucky to have her. Her work with the pilots and ground troops has been invaluable."
"I'm not keeping this appointment," Han said sullenly. "I ain't havin' no doctor ask me about my feelings."
"You are keeping this appointment, Solo!" she snapped at him. "Or I swear I'll have Chewie carry you the entire way through this ship! Is that clear?" Chewie roared his agreement with the Princess, and Han's face flushed with anger.
He stood up and shouted back, "You're really enjoying this, aren't you, Your Royalness? I can imagine you always wanted to treat me like a servant, and ya ain't wasting your opportunity!"
Furious, Leia stood and jabbed Han in the chest with a sharp fingernail. "How dare you accuse me of treating you like a servant? You're the one who seems to be enjoying this little 'poor helpless me' routine! I'm the one trying to help you get your independence back, or are you too ignorant to understand this?"
Han opened his mouth to reply, but Leia wasn't finished. "If you want to sit on your rear and rail against the fates, feel free!" With that, Leia pushed past the shocked smuggler and stormed out of the ship.
Silence filled the cockpit. Han listened as Chewie finished checking the shutdown procedures. After long minutes, Han finally spoke. "Chewie? Can you take me to this stupid doctor? I guess keeping one appointment won't kill me."
Chewie shook his shaggy head in exasperation. *Of course I will take you, Han. And after your appointment, you will need to do some serious crawling to get back into the Princess' good graces.*
Han sighed. He hated it when the Wookiee was right.
Chewie led his friend through the halls of the battle cruiser, silently snarling at anyone who dared to openly stare for too long a moment at the blind Corellian. A few of the pilots knew Han, and greeted him cheerfully but cautiously, not knowing quite what to say to him. The ex-smuggler would smile and thank them for welcoming him back, but his insides felt like knots. Having so many strangers and acquaintances see him like this was a new ordeal, and he found himself wishing Leia was with him to act as an additional buffer. They finally reached the office of Dr. Deckat, and Chewie pushed the buzzer. Han heard, and felt, the door open.
"Captain Solo?" a human female voice said. "And this must be Chewbacca. I've heard a great deal about both of you."
Chewie whuffed his greeting at the pleasant-looking middle-aged woman, and Han automatically fell into his routine of Chewie's interpreter. "He says don't believe half of what you hear."
Dr. Deckat gave a pleasant laugh. "This is going to be a three hour appointment, Chewbacca. You are welcome to wait in the lobby, but you probably would be more comfortable just returning when Captain Solo's appointment is completed. I promise to take good care of him."
Chewie growled his agreement. *Han, behave yourself and be nice. I will return in three hours.* And before Han could object, the Wookiee turned and left.
Three hours! Han thought, feeling slightly panicked. "Leia didn't mention the appointment was going to last so long," he tried to say casually.
"I realize that sounds like a long time, Captain, but we have a lot to do and you will be surprised how fast the time will go," Dr. Deckat said in a very professional tone. "Come in."
Han put his hand out to locate the door frame, and moved slowly into the doctor's office. "You won't take offense if I guide you to a chair?" the doctor inquired.
"Not at all, doc," Han replied. "I'm kinda new to this blind business."
She chuckled softly and led him to a chair, then sat down opposite her new patient, sizing him up. Han Solo was a nice-looking man, and it was already obvious that he was the type to cover up his fears with jokes or sarcasm. He may allow the doctor to teach him, but it would take much longer to get him to trust her and express his feelings in a counseling session. Dr. Deckat had a great deal of patience She would simply wait until he opened up to her.
"So tell me Captain, can you see anything?' she asked. "Or is it total blackness?"
Han shifted in his chair. "Please don't call me Captain. Just Han. I'm not a captain anymore."
"All right, Han."
"I can see shades of grays, shadows," he answered. "It's like trying to look through a dense fog, with nothin' having any substance or definition. It's kinda hard to describe."
"You described it quite well," she encouraged him. "Do you ever see lights?"
"Flashes, sometimes," Han admitted. "Dr. Bayliss told me that was 'cause not all the brain cells that accept the information from my eyes died. Apparently, a few surviving cells keep trying to work."
"Can you tell me about the experience in carbonite?" she gently prodded.
"No!" Han snapped, instantly feeling hostile. "I ain't talking to you about that."
"That's fine, Han," she said calmly. Han heard the doctor get up and walk across the room, then return to his side. "Can you stand up a moment?"
Wondering what she was about to do, he stood up. The doctor took his hand and placed a small square metal object in his palm. Han could tell it had a clip on one side, and controls on the other. "What's this?" he asked curiously.
"A sensor," the doctor explained. "It's adjusted to your height, and fastens to your belt at your waist. It can be set to either vibrate, or give an audible signal."
"Basically, it tells you if there is an object in front of you as you are walking. It will tell you if you are about to trip over something, or hit your head on a low hanging obstacle. Ages ago, people used to employ a stick or cane. This is much better. Once you practice with it for a while, you'll be able to get around surprisingly well, and without assistance."
"This is going to be today's lesson," the doctor stated. "Let me show you how to put it on, and we'll get started."
Three hours later, a tired but happy Han heard the office buzzer sound. By the end of the session with Dr. Deckat, he had successfully navigated his way around the office and lobby without assistance. The doctor had changed the office furniture arrangement several times, and still he hadn't crashed into anything. Han expected that the buzzer would be Chewie, since he strongly suspected Leia was still angry at him. It seemed that he'd been doing nothing but apologizing to her since his rescue. Therefore, Han was pleasantly surprised to hear Leia's voice speaking to the doctor.
"Dr. Deckat, it's good to see you again," Leia said.
"It's nice to see you again also, Leia," the doctor responded.
"Has Han been giving you much trouble?"
Dr. Deckat laughed. "No, actually, he's been more cooperative than I thought he would be, given the warnings."
"Hey," Han objected. "Just 'cause I can't see doesn't mean I'm deaf!"
"I'll take him off your hands now, doctor," Leia said with a smile. "He'll be back tomorrow. I promise."
"Then I'll see you both tomorrow," the doctor replied. "Have a nice day, Han."
"Thanks," Han mumbled as he allowed Leia to lead him out the door.
After they had walked a short distance, Leia asked, "Was it as bad as you thought?"
"No," he admitted, subdued. "She's kinda nice. And I think she can help me."
"No, really?" Leia shot back sarcastically. "And here I just wanted to torture you."
"Okay, Princess." Han sighed. "You were right, and I was wrong. Again. Are you still mad at me?"
"I'm here, aren't I?"
"Where are we going now?" Han asked.
"General Rieekan and the others would like to see you. And don't you dare start another fight with me right now," she added as a warning.
"Fine," Han grumbled under his breath. Why they wanted to see him was beyond his comprehension. He'd never officially joined the Rebellion, and now that he was willing, he was unable to be of any help. They continued down several corridors, until finally entering a large conference room. The room held nearly a dozen high-ranking Alliance Officials, and when the Princess and the ex-smuggler entered the room, they all stopped talking. Han felt acutely self-conscious, but Leia guided him to a chair and sat down next to him as if being seen with Han and holding his hand was a perfectly normal, everyday occurrence.
"It's certainly good to see you again, Solo," General Rieekan said in greeting. "The Rebellion has missed your assistance."
"Even if your assistance always was costly," General Madine murmured under his breath.
Someone gave a discreet cough, and Mon Mothma quickly added, "Welcome back, Captain Solo."
"Thanks," Han said with a shrug.
"You're probably wondering why we asked Leia to bring you to this meeting," Rieekan said.
"Has Leia told you we're moving to Coruscant next week?"
"She told me it was gonna be soon, but next week?" Han replied, surprised. "That's quick."
"Once we're there, we would like to establish ties with as many former dissidents as possible," Mon Mothma continued. "We would like to know if you would be our liaison with any smugglers that would like to assist us in establishing the New Republic. They could start fresh, with a clean slate, since the New Republic has no intentions of putting such high taxes on shippers that the Empire did. We hope free trade will greatly reduce the need to smuggle."
Han sat still, realizing that everyone in the room was looking at him, wondering what his response would be. "I'm not sure my former colleagues will listen to me. They might consider me a traitor, looking for a way to help the New Republic trap them."
"That's possible," Rieekan said truthfully. "But we think you're our best bet for establishing contacts with them."
"I'm not sure I can, since I can't... um ..see," Han mumbled, feeling his face flush.
"I don't believe your lack of eyesight will hurt your chances," Mon Mothma said. "Actually, it might help."
"Help?" Han asked, incredulous.
"The word will spread fast that you can't see, Solo," Rieekan explained. "Your former colleagues might decide to meet with you just to size up the situation themselves."
"You mean gawk at me?" Han snapped. He felt Leia give his boot a kick under the table.
"People are curious," Rieekan admitted. "You don't have to decide today, but at least give it some consideration, okay?"
Han fidgeted for a moment. "Fine, I'll think about it."
Three Weeks Later
The Rebel Fleet, now called The New Republic Fleet, gathered above the city-wide planet of Coruscant. All personnel and officials were going down to the surface, a few at a time, under heavy escort. Han and Leia had been sent down several days ago, and Leia had located an appropriate apartment for them.
Han was sitting on the side of the bed, listening as Leia unpacked clothing. "Don't you think your hot-shot New Republic friends are going to disapprove of you sharing your apartment with me?"
"I don't really care what they think, Han." Leia answered him as she hung some of his shirts in the closet. "My personal life is none of their business."
"I'm glad you feel that way, sweetheart. But people are still gonna talk."
"Let them," she replied. "We're famous now, so it's something we need to get used to."
"You're famous, Princess." Han smirked. "I'm only famous by association."
"Speaking of associations," Leia smoothly changed the topic, "Have you decided what to do about Rieekan's request?"
Han sighed. "Leia, smugglers are smugglers because they like the risk and the reward. Take that away, and you're takin' their fun away. Not to mention big payouts. Being an honest shipper might involve less risk of death, but the thrill is gone."
"So you don't think any of them will want to work with the New Republic?"
"A few might, but not many," Han informed her. "I just don't know if it's gonna to be worth the effort."
Leia went up to Han and pushed him on his back and lay down on her side, facing him. "You could start by contacting those you think might help us. Maybe if you could convince a few to start working for us, more smugglers might decide to give it a try."
Han grinned, and said to her in a husky voice, "Maybe first I need some convincing."
"Fine, but if I'm providing you with the thrill, you better be prepared to give the big payout."
Dengar the bounty hunter watched the holovids as they showed the arrival of the victorious New Republic heroes on Coruscant. He sat forward when he saw the cameras focus on the beautiful Princess Leia Organa holding the hand of a tall, very familiar looking man. Han Solo! Dengar trembled with rage. The smuggler always landed on his feet, and Dengar hated Solo for his talents, looks, and the beautiful women that always seemed to be hanging on his arm. Then he heard the perky news announcer inform the galaxy, "..and the constant companion these days for the lovely New Republic Leader, Princess Leia Organa, is a former smuggler by the name of Han Solo. Solo has recently survived carbonite freezing, but on a sad footnote, he has permanently lost his eyesight because of the freezing process."
Dengar sat back in his chair. A slow, wicked smile formed on his face. Blind! His hated enemy was blind! This opened up endless possibilities for his revenge plans. Dengar couldn't wait to decide which way he was going to destroy Solo.
One Week Later
The door chime to Han and Leia's apartment rang, and Han called from the kitchen, "Chewie, will you get that please?" His partner gave an affirmative bark and answered the ornate double doors. Lando stood grinning at him.
"Hey, furball!" Lando said affectionately. "Where's that lazy Corellian?"
"Lazy? LAZY?" Han yelled from the kitchen. "Come over here and say that!" Han walked into the large living area holding a cup of caf, and stopped a short distance in front of Calrissian.
Lando was truly impressed by the ease with which his friend made his way around the apartment, especially considering only little over a month had passed since Han had lost his sight. He also admired how diligently the Corellian had been working with Dr. Deckat. "Why have you decided to grace my presence, Calrissian?"
The Baron got right to the point. "I'm going to the gym to work out, and I want you to come with me."
Han frowned suspiciously. "Why?"
"Because I don't think Leia would appreciate it if you let yourself get fat and flabby." Lando grinned. "Do you want to start looking like a Hutt?"
"I do not look like a Hutt!"
"Why do you care, anyway?" Han shot back.
"Come on, Han," Lando wheedled. "You need to get out today, and I need to talk to you. We can get both done at once."
Chewie woofed his agreement, and Han groaned. "I know when I'm outvoted. Let me go and get a sweatsuit."
An hour later, Han was on his back lifting weights while Lando trotted on a treadmill. Han lowered the bar he was hoisting and decided to ask, since Lando had not been talkative since their arrival at the gym. "Ok, Lando, what do you need to discuss with me?" He heard Lando stop running and walk over to him. Han sat up, carefully avoiding the bar resting on its holders.
Lando took a deep breath. "I've been wondering what you've decided about contacting smugglers for the New Republic."
"I haven't decided," Han answered. "Did Leia ask you to pressure me?"
"No," Lando replied quickly. Probably too quickly. "I've actually been talking to Chewie and I have an idea, if you'll hear me out."
"I'm listening," Han said with a smirk. "I have a hard time lately stomping out of a room in righteous protest. Falling flat on my face takes away from the dramatic exit scene."
Lando laughed and shook his head fondly. "This is my idea - Chewie and I can do the preliminary contacts with smugglers. When - and if - we find that some of them are interested, we make arrangements for you to meet with them on neutral turf. I think that way everybody is safer, and feels more at ease. What do you think?"
"Safer?" Han questioned harshly. "You mean safer for me?"
"Safer for everyone, Han," Lando replied, trying to soothe Han's fragile ego. "And yes, for you too."
"Why can't you meet with them as long as you're the one doing the leg-work to begin with?" Han asked trying to decide how hard to make this for Lando.
"They always liked you better than me, Han," Lando admitted honestly. "And I think the New Republic High Command is right - the smugglers will want to see you personally."
Han sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Fine. Tell Leia she wins, I'll do it. And I suppose you'll want to use the Falcon, too?"
"I guess the High Command will get me a ship if I ask them for one," Lando said, trying to sound pitiful.
"Just use her, okay?" Han snapped. "I suppose letting you fly her is better than letting her rust away."
"Thanks, Han," Lando replied, not at all sure about the 'compliment' Han had just paid him. "I'll take real good care of her for you."
Han frowned and threw the towel he had around his neck in Lando's direction, feeling a certain degree of satisfaction when he heard Lando give a muffled yelp as it hit him squarely in the face.
Leia waited in the large hanger for Luke to depart from his X-Wing with a huge smile on her face. It had been a month since she had seen her brother, and she had missed him. Brother and sister ran to each other and hugged tightly. "Luke," she said happily, "It's so good to see you again!"
"The New Republic has been keeping me pretty busy with assignments, Leia," Luke explained. "Since Endor, it seems I've hardly had time to breathe."
"Things are crazy around here, too," Leia agreed, taking Luke's arm and walking with him to her apartment.
"How are you doing, Leia?"
"I'm fine, just tired," his sister answered. "But it's a good tired."
"Chewie told me he's with Lando, at the gym," Leia answered, waiting for Luke's reaction.
"The gym?" Luke did not disappoint her. "With Lando?"
Leia laughed. "Lando got back about three days ago, and he told Han if he didn't go to the gym with him and work-out, Han would start looking like Jabba!"
"Ah." Luke nodded in understanding. "Appealed to his male ego?"
"Afraid so. I put Lando up to it, and I'm glad Han agreed to go. Exercise is good for his mental health."
"And how is that coming?" Luke inquired carefully.
"He has good days, and some bad days, when he's really down. On bad days I can barely get him out of bed," Leia replied, her smile fading. "But Dr. Deckat told me that's to be expected. He is really doing well with his learning sessions with her, I just wish he would talk to her about his feelings."
"This is Han we're talking about, Leia," Luke told her gently as they entered the lift to Leia's apartment. "He's spent his entire life building walls around his feelings. Talking to a counselor isn't something that's going to come easily for him."
"I know, Luke," she replied. "It would help him if he would, though." After exiting the elevator, they walked the rest of the way in silence to Leia's apartment. When they were inside, Leia asked, "Can I get you something to eat or drink?"
"A sandwich and juice would taste good. Leia, there's something else I need to discuss with you," he added as he watched her prepare lunch.
Leia looked up and waited. "I want to start training you as a Jedi, Leia," Luke said tentatively.
Leia frowned and put down the knife she was using. "I don't know, Luke," she replied slowly. "I don't know if I have the time, or even the talent that you possess."
"You have the talent, sister," Luke responded. "The Force is strong in our family."
"That's what I am worried about," his sister answered quickly.
Luke understood Leia's concerns. She still had a long way to go with accepting Anakin Skywalker as her father. "I believe in your goodness, Leia," Luke told her earnestly. "And I believe it's my destiny to reestablish the Jedi. I need to start with you." When she still looked doubtful, Luke added, "The Force would help your work as a politician. And you would be able to better protect yourself, and Han."
"That's a cheap shot, brother," Leia fired back. "Appealing to my sense of duty and love for Han."
"Maybe," Luke agreed with a grin. "Did it work?"
"Yes, it did." Leia sighed. "I'll train as a Jedi."
Two months later
Luke was parrying Leia with lightsabers in a large empty room while Han sat on the floor in a corner, leaning against the wall. The flash and hiss of lightsabers filled the room, while both siblings concentrated on Force-inspired moves. Luke finally stepped back and turned off his saber. "You're doing great, Leia," he encouraged her with a smile. "This is really coming naturally to you. I told you it would."
"Thanks," Leia replied, wiping sweat off her forehead. "All this training sure is making me get in good shape."
"Just don't cut off anything important, Luke," Han called over. "Like her head."
"At least my head is important, laserbrain," Leia yelled back to him. "I think yours might be expendable."
"We both know which part of me you think isn't expendable, sweetheart," Han shot back with a smirk.
Leia rolled her eyes as Luke burst into laughter. He was glad to see his friend return to his teasing ways -- as far as Luke was concerned, it was a good sign. Leia had confided in him that Han's nightmares were becoming less frequent with the passing weeks, and the days he was depressed fewer, and further apart.
"Let's go eat lunch," Luke suggested. "There is this really good cafe Wedge told me about, and I want to try it."
Inwardly, Han cringed. He still hated eating in public, even though he had gone out with Leia several times. Both times, Han had insisted he sit at a table facing a wall so others could not watch him. He still felt very self-conscious about the minor problems he had with eating. Luke noticed Han's reaction, but before Han could protest, Leia told Luke, "That's a good idea. But first we both need a quick shower."
Leia headed off to the women's refresher while Luke walked over to Han. "Do you want to wait here, or come with me in the locker room?" Luke asked
Han shrugged. "I'll wait here. You won't be long." After Luke left, Han wandered around the edge of the large room, idly running his fingers across the smooth walls. His thoughts focused on Leia, and how much he loved her. He wanted to ask her to marry him, but his insecurities held him back. She deserved so much better than a blind ex-smuggler. People would say she married him out of pity, and he married her for the financial security. Besides which, Solo was worried that he would be a political liability to her future career.
Han also found himself missing Chewie. Lando and Chewie had left about a month ago to try and make the initial contacts with smugglers interested in becoming legitimate shippers. It had been hard on Han to say goodbye to Chewie at the docking area, and it bothered him to think that Lando was now piloting the Falcon. The reports that the pair had been sending back to Coruscant indicated they were not having much success convincing smugglers to become legitimate. Han wasn't at all surprised by this information. He sincerely doubted he would have met with anyone attempting to convert him if he were still in the smuggling business.
Lost in his musings, he was startled when, without warning, a sharp edge of a blaster stuck in his neck. Han froze.
"Make one move Solo, and I'll kill you," a raspy voice whispered. "And then I'll kill your pretty Princess."
Han remained still. "Who are you?" he asked quietly, trying to keep fear out of his voice. He wished he had his blaster with him. Lando and Chewie had taken him a few times to a target practice facility, but Han still didn't feel comfortable enough with his skill level at this point to wear it regularly. He had genuine fears about getting into a difficult situation, and accidentally killing an innocent bystander.
"What? You don't remember me?" the voice asked sarcastically. "We were such good friends, Solo. Let me reintroduce myself. My name is Dengar. Now do you remember me?"
Han felt his heart drop to his boots. Dengar. His old enemy turned bounty hunter. "I remember you," Han said softly. "What do you want me to do?"
"That's a good boy, Solo," Dengar hissed. "Walk in front of me, and don't try anything, or you die."
Han felt the hunter remove his comlink from his belt and toss it on the floor. Then he was given a hard push and stumbled quickly in the direction he was pointed. Han tried to keep track of the direction they were headed, but Dengar prodded him in the back with his blaster, down a corridor he had never been down. A door swished open, and the outside breeze ruffled the Corellian's hair. His fear level made a huge leap upward. The outside walkways of Coruscant were a deadly place for a sightless man, dropping thousands of feet down to the bottom levels. Han kept his voice steady and said, "If you're planning on collecting a bounty, there won't be much left of me to identify if you have to scrape the pieces off the bottom of Coruscant."
Dengar only gave a wicked laugh, struck Han across the back of his head with the butt of his blaster, laughing harder as the unconscious Corellian dropped to the sidewalk. Dengar quickly dragged his victim into his waiting air speeder and headed for his destination - the lowest levels of Coruscant.
Leia came out of the refresher, her braided hair still damp. She looked around the empty room and gave a mental shrug. Han was probably in the men's locker room with Luke, she reasoned. A small glint of metal caught her eye, and she walked across the room to see what it was. A comlink. Puzzled, she picked it up. It was Han's comlink. Perhaps he had dropped it. Leia turned as Luke came out of the men's locker room, and walked toward her. "Luke?" she asked, feeling a sudden sense of unease. "Is Han with you?"
"No, he said he'd wait here," Luke replied, frowning. "What are you holding?"
"Han's comlink." Her pulse quickened. "Something's wrong."
"Don't panic," Luke said, trying to keep his sister calm. "Maybe he just didn't want to go eat in a restaurant. He's still uncomfortable eating in public."
"No, he wouldn't just leave without saying anything," Leia argued quickly. "He's never walked out in public alone, either."
"Stay calm, Leia," Luke admonished his sister. "I'll try using the Force to locate him." Luke immediately shut his eyes and reached outward for his friend's unique Force-signature. He could only locate a weak, unaware signal. He opened his eyes to look directly at his sister's worried face. "Something is definitely wrong," he concurred.
Dengar's airspeeder descended quickly but could only go so far down, and Dengar intended to go much, much further down. Once he had landed at the lowest possible point, he pressed a signal button. A door opened and two gaunt, rag-covered Gamorreans stumbled out of the hatchway, shielding their eyes from the unaccustomed brightness of the outside world. Dengar quickly signaled his new employees to drag Solo into the lift. From that point, each level they went down was darker and dirtier. They needed to switch lifts several times, and finally used broken metal stairways to reach one of the bottom-most levels. Once there, the Gamorreans deposited their limp burden. Dengar removed a few credit chips and handed them each their payment. The Gamorreans quickly left the scene.
When Han regained consciousness he was sure that someone was beating on his head with a hydrospanner. Groaning, he sat up and felt the large blood-caked lump at the back of his skull. "Have a nice nap?" Dengar chortled.
Han winced at the sound of Dengar's voice. "Where are we?" he rasped through his dry throat. The place was damp, cold, and smelled rancid, with noisy pipes clanging in the distance. He knew he was not on a ship.
"We are in the charming underbelly of Coruscant, my friend. A real tourist destination." Dengar smirked. "It's here where my little game is to begin."
"Game?" Han asked warily.
"I have been hired to bring you to Jabba's relatives for revenge," Dengar supplied. "I may just do that, if you survive entertaining me."
Han didn't answer. He knew Dengar was all too eager to provide him with details, so he sat and waited, feeling his heart pounding in his ears. "My little game is a game of chase, with you as the prey and me as the hunter," Dengar continued gleefully. "I will give you a half an hour head-start, and then I come after you. When I catch you, I promise I won't kill you, only incapacitate you and take you to Tatooine for the reward."
"What if I won't play your game, Dengar?" Han spat. "Either way I end up back at the Hutt's playground."
"If you refuse to play, I will leave you here to rot," Dengar growled. "And then I will go after your woman. What I do to her won't be pretty."
Han tried to keep himself calm, knowing full well Dengar wasn't bluffing, and Leia meant more to him than his life. "When does this half hour start?" he questioned through clenched teeth.
"Right now, Solo," Dengar said darkly. "And by the way, I destroyed that cute little sensor that you had on your belt. I don't want to make this too easy for you."
"You're all heart," Solo growled. Han struggled to his feet and stumbled his way down the dank, slippery corridor. Dengar's laughter echoed after him for a long way.
Leia was biting her fingernails nervously as she followed her brother out of Rieekan's office. They had run the entire way to report what they believed was Han's kidnapping. General Rieekan had remarked the evidence was fairly thin, but he had dispatched Security nevertheless. "Do you think Security will find anything?" Leia asked her brother.
"Probably not," Luke reluctantly admitted. "Coruscant is too big. We are going to have to find him ourselves."
"How? If security can't find him, we don't have a chance."
"We have more than a chance, Leia," her brother reassured her. "We have the Force."
"Can you sense anything? Is he even on the planet anymore?"
"He's here, Leia," Luke answered with a faraway look. "I wish I had more training. All I can tell right now, is that he is down."
"Whoever took him, has gone down to the lower levels of the planet," Luke replied.
Leia felt ill. She knew the stories of the kind of beings that lived far below. Living was a generous word. Surviving was more accurate. If Han was down there, he was in a lot of trouble. Leia leaned against a wall and shut her eyes. "I can't let him die down there, Luke," she whispered. "I love him."
"We need to start making our way down as quickly as possible," Luke informed her. "The closer I can get to him, the better I'll be able to track his exact whereabouts."
They began their descent .
Han couldn't tell how much time had passed since he left Dengar. He'd been moving as swiftly as he could, given his circumstances. He had tripped and fallen over trash and unknown obstacles so many times already he'd lost count. The palms of his hands and his knees were torn and bloody. The worst part was knowing he could fall into a crevice or off a ledge, and plummet to his death at any moment. The Corellian tried to change corridors and directions as many times as possible. Since he had no idea where he was, getting lost was not an issue.
Hugging the wall, he turned a corner. A deep rumble of some large, hungry creature filled his ears. Han froze in fear for a moment, wondering if backing away slowly would do him any good. The creature's growls became louder and angrier. Han listened as the sudden thunder of steps came crashing toward him. When he swore he could smell the being's fetid breath, he ducked and rolled, crashing his shoulder painfully into a wall. He heard the creature stop a short distance away, and knew it was turning around for another attack. Desperately, Han groped around on the slimy, junk filled floor. His hand found a metal tube object, and he pulled. The pipe refused to come loose. The creature was only seconds away from his back. Han tugged again with all his strength. The pipe wrenched free, and Han twisted around and swung it in the direction of his attacker with all the force he could muster. A loud sickening crunch sounded and the being squealed in pain. Han lurched to his feet, and swung at his opponent again. This time he only connected with the wall. To his surprise, the grunts of the creature sounded further away, and as he listened, Han realized it was leaving. A second later he understood the reason. The sound of snapping and groaning metal filled the hall. Water gushed up around his knees and began pouring into his boots. Han tried to leave the corridor by wading in the opposite direction of the beast, but he didn't make it very far. An icy wall of water hit him from behind, sending him riding a tidal wave of liquid filth. The pipe he had pulled free apparently had been somewhat important.
Dengar was trying to track his prey, and was finding it a bit more difficult than he had anticipated. Although he had a bright light atop his head, the deep interior of Coruscant was a jumbled maze. Dengar had relied on his paid Gamorreans to get him to this point, and now he was alone. But not really alone. The hunter was acutely aware he was being watched by various creatures, most of which were hungry, and all of which were dangerous. The further he went into the jungle of dripping pipes and duracrete, the more nervous and jumpy he was becoming.
Luke and Leia had gone as far down as regular lifts could take them. Even though the lifts had moved fairly quickly, valuable time was passing. They were armed only with their lightsabers, but Luke felt confident that would be all that was necessary. And the twins had to waste more time stopping to purchase hand held lights. Leia had accused the sales droid of deliberately moving in slow motion, and hadn't waited for either a sales receipt or change.
"Are you sure this is the right way?" Leia asked for the tenth time, as they climbed ever lower.
"As sure as I can be, Leia," Luke responded, trying not to let his irritation show. She was worried, and for good reason. The corridors were slippery and covered with generations of rust and mold. Loud clanks, groans and hissing sounds filled the corridors. Luke knew not all the sounds they heard were machinery noises.
"Can you tell if he's okay?" Leia pleaded with Luke.
"No, I can't tell," Luke lied, with more than a little bit of guilt. He didn't want to upset his sister any more than she already was. But Luke knew that Han was injured and scared.
Han tried to keep his head above the fast moving roiling wall of foul water, but his strength was rapidly waning. He guessed that the depth of the water was not particularly deep since his feet kept scraping the floor. At least he assumed it was the floor. Given his current state of disorientation, he wasn't certain which way was up, and swallowing large quantities of the revolting water wasn't helping. He had crashed several times into walls and loose objects kept smashing against him. He was certain he had broken several ribs. Crawling along the edges of the wall, he desperately tried to find something to stop his progress.
The rush of water finally deposited him down a twenty-foot drop off, and into a large, sludge-filled cistern. Gasping for breath, Han struggled to keep his head above the deep water. He had no idea how large the pit was he had been dumped into, and began swimming to find the edge. Nearly five minutes later, the exhausted Corellian reached a slimy metal wall. Han lifted his arm up, and to his dismay realized he could not reach the top of the wall. Just swell, he thought, I'm gonna drown in a pool of filth at the bottom of Coruscant. What an inglorious end, Solo.
Han didn't want to die. Stubbornly refusing to give in, he eased his way around the slick wall. Just when he thought his trembling limbs could no longer keep his head above water, his hand felt a metal strip. Grabbing at the metal, the Corellian's icy fingers groped the protrusion, trying to determine what it was. Two vertical metal strips, connected by horizontal strips, his addled brain informed him. A ladder! Han nearly sobbed in relief. He pulled himself up the slippery rungs very slowly. He didn't want to fall back into the basin, and his exhaustion would not allow haste. Reaching the top of the ladder, Han pulled himself on to a wet, rusty durasteel floor and flopped down on his side, shaking. It took only a few minutes for his queasy stomach to object to the disgusting liquid he had swallowed. He quickly got to his hands and knees, and vomited the vile water he had swallowed during his swim. "This day just keeps getting better and better," Han spoke aloud, still gagging.
"Hallo Mister," a tiny voice said from a short distance away. "Are you okay?"
Dengar was becoming angry. He could not believe a blind man was eluding him. The blasted smuggler had simply vanished, and Dengar was cursing under his breath. He should never have given Solo an entire half hour head-start. Ten minutes would have been adequate, and the trail would have been easy to follow. The hunter decided he hated the underworld of Coruscant. Perhaps Solo had fallen off a ledge and was already dead. If that were the case, it was likely Dengar would never find the body. He would be out of his reward from the Hutts, and never have the enjoyment of torturing Solo and watching him die. The more he thought about these things, the faster he walked. He simply had to find Solo.
Rounding a corner, Dengar found himself facing a dozen filth-covered Ugnaughts. Some were crouching down and tearing at what appeared to be a bloated corpse. Dengar's lamp blinded the ones looking directly at him, and they raised their arms to shield their light-sensitive eyes. Snarling, the Ugnaughts started to approach the intruder, and Dengar raised his blaster and fired at the closest one. The Ugnaught instantly dropped dead, a large hole smoldering in his chest. For a second his companions stared in shock at their deceased friend. Then with an angry roar, the mob rushed the Hunter.
Dengar wildly fired off several more shots, turned and ran as fast as he could.
Leia and Luke were heading down yet another disgusting hallway, when they heard the sound of blasterfire. They exchanged a quick look before rushing in the direction of the noise. Running around a corner, Leia collided with a large man, and went tumbling backwards. The man staggered slightly, then looked over his shoulder and attempted to keep running. Using the Force, Luke tripped the man, sending him crashing into the wall. Skywalker spun around, ignited his lightsaber and faced the oncoming mob. Luke didn't want to harm these beings, but he was prepared to defend himself and Leia. The maddened Ugnaughts did not slow their rush, not even facing a lightsaber.
"Stop!" Luke yelled. He tried to use the Force to sway their attack, but the effort failed. When the nearest crazed being reached Luke, the young Jedi swung his saber down and across, cutting the creature in half. And still they came. Luke swung a second time, in the opposite direction, severing the head off the next one. The body dropped and the head bounced across the hall. A pale green saber ignited next to him, and he realized Leia was getting ready to help him. Leia's saber came down on the next Ugnaught. He staggered backwards, and fell dead. The remaining beings slowed and stopped, as if they suddenly realized they could not reach their enemies. "Leave!" Luke ordered them in the unexpected lull.
Looking at each other with wide eyes, the Ugnaughts turned and ran away. Instantly Luke turned toward the fallen human, blocking the stranger's blaster shot at his unguarded back with his saber. Reaching out with the Force, Luke pulled the weapon from the stunned man's hand.
"Who are you?" the hunter asked in awe.
"My name is Luke Skywalker," the Jedi calmly replied. "And I am far more interested in who you are."
Han slowly turned toward the voice that had spoken to him, still sitting on the floor. He was not at all sure his legs would support him. "Hello?" he responded. "Who are you?"
The silence went on so long that Han started to think he had hallucinated the voice. "My name is Trella," the small voice finally answered.
"Trella," Han said. "That's a pretty name, Trella. My name is Han. How old are you?"
"Eight, I think."
A child. Han could scarcely believe a child was living down in this hellhole. "Do you have parents, Trella? A mom or a dad?" Han asked softly.
"I used to have a mommy, but they kilt her."
"Who killed her?" Han asked her quietly. He didn't want to frighten the child.
"Some peoples," she responded simply.
Han tried a different approach. "Have you always lived down here?"
"No, mister. My mommy and me used to live up where there was warm and sun. But her boss person got mad and dragged us down here."
"What kind of job did your mommy have?"
"I dun know," the child replied. "She would work at night. Lots of men camed over, but they only stayed a little while. Sometime they would hurt mommy."
Han felt as if his heart were breaking for this child. She was alone, and somehow had survived living in the worst possible conditions. "I'm sorry about your mommy, Trella," Han spoke tenderly. "Have you been down here very long?"
"I dun know. A long whiles," she guessed. Han could understand why Trella wouldn't know. Time down here was meaningless. Nights were endless.
"I would like to help you, Trella," Han said to her. "But I can't see, so we might be able to help each other, do you think?"
"Why can't you see?" she asked, sounding perplexed.
"That's a long story, Trella," Han told her. "But if you help me, I will try to get you out of here. Would you like to see the sun again?"
"Yes!" she said happily.
"Do you know where to go up?" Han inquired.
"Kinda, but mean peoples don't let anyones go up," she informed Han. "But I can take you to my safe place!"
Han smiled. "That would be nice, Trella. I'd really like to go to your safe place."
After removing any remaining weapons the man had hidden on his body, Luke looked down at his defiant captive. He knew that this man had been the one who kidnapped Han. The man kept staring at Leia, and Luke was certain he recognized his sister. "What's your name?" Luke repeated his question.
The hunter stared sullenly at the Jedi. "My name is Dengar, and I am a bounty hunter."
Leia took a quick gasp. "Who hired you?"
"I ain't answering that!" Dengar shot back.
Luke ignited his lightsaber. He had no intention of actually using it on the man, but he wasn't above a little intimidation. Dengar's eyes grew wide and he drew away from the glowing rod. "Answer her question!" Luke commanded.
"Letti the Hutt, Jabba's nephew!" he spat at Luke. "Hutts don't like humans to get the better of 'em."
"Where is Han now?" Leia questioned, her eyes flashing with anger. Leia, Luke cautioned her through the Force. Anger is of the Dark Side! Leia took a deep breath and calmed herself.
"I wish I knew!" Dengar snapped at the Princess. "I wanted to play a little game of chase, and the idiot got away. I hope he fell off a high ledge and died. Slowly!"
Leia glared at the man, sincerely wishing that using the Force to choke him wasn't against the rules. Luke put his hand on her shoulder and shook his head. "Can I at least hurt him, just a little?" Leia asked with a guilty smile.
"No," Luke replied with a grin of his own. "Afraid not." Luke turned toward the hunter. "Getting back to the upper regions with no weapon will be quite a feat, Dengar. I hope you are well trained in hand-to-hand combat. And if you do happen to survive, security personnel will be waiting for you."
"You're gonna leave me here, with no weapons?" he asked incredulously.
"You have your eyesight, Dengar," Leia snarled at him. "That's a lot more than Han has."
Both young humans set off, leaving the bounty hunter staring after them in shock.
Luke and Leia had gone a short ways down the twisting and turning halls, when Luke noticed his sister resting her hand on her abdomen, frowning in concern. Luke tried his best to be casual as he said, "Your babies are fine, don't worry."
Leia stopped short, her eyes wide with surprise. "How... how.." she stuttered.
Luke turned to his sister, and smiled. "I've known for about a week now. Your babies are so strong in the Force, it was impossible for me not to feel them."
The Princess was stunned. She had only known about her pregnancy for a little over a week herself. "I haven't even told Han yet." Tears formed in her eyes. "Now I may never get the chance."
"Han is alive, Leia," Luke reassured her. "We are going to find him, I promise. He's been hurt, but he is nowhere near dying."
"Hurt?" she asked fearfully.
"Sister, listen to me," Luke said. "He is fighting like a Bakuran Tiger to stay alive. Think about it."
A slow smile spread over Leia's face. "He doesn't want to die," she said as comprehension dawned on her.
"I don't think he ever really did want to die. For a while there he thought he had nothing to live for, until he realized how much he has left." Luke looked pointedly at his sister.
"I can't wait to tell Han about his babies," Leia said with renewed determination. "Now he has even more to live for - his children!"
Luke put his arm around Leia and they continued their quest.
The child's small hand felt warm against Han's chilled fingers. He was shivering so hard it was difficult to keep his teeth from chattering, and his broken ribs throbbed painfully. He followed her placidly through corridor after corridor, up and down crumbling stairways and across narrow chasms. They walked until his feet hurt and he felt as if he were on the verge of passing out. Finally they turned down a hall that felt warmer and far less odorous than any place Han had been in since his arrival. "This is my safe place," Trella whispered to Han. "All the others are scared to come here."
"Scared?" Han asked. "Why would they be scared?"
Trella lowered her voice further. "Ghosts."
Han almost laughed, but the last thing he wanted to do was to offend the child. Instead he just asked, "Why aren't you afraid of the ghosts?"
"They like me," she confided. "They keeps the bad peoples away." She dropped his hand and pulled with both hands on a heavy round latch. The steel door swung slowly open with a loud creak. "Come on, we have to get inside 'fore the bad peoples see us." She took his hand again and led the Corellian into a room. Han heard the door shut and click behind them, even though Trella was in front of him, nowhere near the door. Han suddenly felt nervous, and annoyed with himself for feeling jittery over ghosts, which he emphatically did not believe in.
"What is this room?" Han asked her. It was not cold or damp. In fact, it felt rather comfortable. "Can you describe it to me?"
"I dun know what it is," she answered truthfully. "It's really big and has high walls, with lots of things stacked up the sides on high shelves."
"Things? What kind of things?"
"Square things," she replied. "They are all kinds of colors and sizes, and they are real pretty."
Han frowned, trying to think of what that could possibly be. He suddenly felt dizzy from pain and exhaustion. "Trella, I need to sit down."
"Okay," she said easily and led him to a soft, if a bit dusty, chair. Han sank down in the comfort of the chair and instantly fell asleep.
When Han woke a short while later, he was surprised to find he had been covered with a blanket. His clothes were still damp, but at least he was no longer cold. Listening carefully he heard a child's voice whispering.
"They won't hurt him, will they?" Trella asked. Han felt his body tense, waiting for the response. "They will help him go home?" she questioned. "I hopes so." Han became puzzled. He could not hear anyone answering the child. Then Han understood. The child was "talking" to her ghost. He felt as though he were eavesdropping, so he stirred in the chair and coughed. Han heard her walk over to him. "Han, my friends would like to say hellos to you," she beamed.
Han carefully sat up. The side that had the broken ribs felt like it was on fire. "All right," Han played along to keep the child happy. "Hello, ghosts. Nice to meet you." He gave a half-hearted wave.
A warm breeze stirred past him, and the burning pain in his ribs eased. Han felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
"The ghosts like you too, Han," she said to him, very pleased. "They says your friends are coming."
"He's close, Leia," Luke told his sister. "I can feel it." Luke shut his eyes and concentrated. He could sense Han, but what was strange to him were the other swirling Force presences he felt. When he tried to focus on them, they seemed to elude him. It was like trying to grasp a misty trail of fog.
Leia bit her bottom lip and watched her brother's face. He seemed confused. "What's the matter, Luke?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "I'm getting such strange sensations. I can't make any sense out of them."
They came to the end of a tunnel that branched off in two directions, and stood still for a moment, while Luke decided which direction to take. "This way," he indicated toward the left.
As they headed left, Leia asked, "If Han is hurt, how do you suppose he got this far? We've been walking for hours. I can't imagine doing this injured and sightless."
Luke shook his head. "I honestly don't know." Luke stopped dead in his tracks, nearly causing Leia to run into his back. "Down here," he pointed down a dark, narrow walkway. Leia squinted into the gloom and gave her brother a shrug. They headed into a hall that was so narrow, their shoulders touched each side.
"This place isn't as smelly as the other corridors," Leia commented. "I wonder why?"
The hallway widened and came to a dead-end at a solid, bare wall. "There isn't anything here, Luke," Leia said disappointedly.
"There has to be!" Luke exclaimed. "I feel it!" Luke put his hand on the wall and ran his hand down the sides. Leia frowned at her brother's odd behavior.
"Luke, there's nothing here," she repeated. Already, so much precious time had passed that Leia did not want to waste a single minute on dead-ends.
Luke turned around to face his sister. "I can't explain what I feel, Leia. But I'm telling you, this is the place. It has to be!" He turned back to the wall and nearly jumped out of his skin in surprise. A heavy durasteel door with an old fashioned handle had appeared, directly in the center of the wall, where nothing had been a second before. Luke turned back to Leia, wondering if she was seeing it also. The stunned look on her face told him she did.
"Where did that come from?" she whispered.
"I have no idea," Luke admitted. "But I'm going to assume it's an invitation to come inside."
Luke pulled the handle and the large door swung easily open. They stepped inside a quiet, still room. Several large chairs faced the opposite wall. Shelves were stacked high with dusty cube shaped objects. A movement caught their eye, and a man stood up from one of the chairs. "Han!" Leia shouted, and ran over to her lover throwing her arms around his waist. "You're alive!" Leia could barely keep from sobbing in relief.
"Leia," Han yelled in happiness. "Sure took you long enough to find me!" When she tightened her arms around him, he gasped and clutched his ribs in pain.
Leia quickly released him and sized up his condition. He was wet, cold, and covered with cuts and bruises. Not to mention filthy. "You smell like a cesspool," she informed him, unable to stop herself from teasing him.
"Very funny," Han groaned dramatically. "Here I get whacked over the head, bust up my ribs, almost get torn to shreds by a really big, nasty creature, practically drown in sewage, and all you can say is I smell like a cesspool !"
Leia laughed and unable to stop herself threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, not caring what he smelled like, as long as he was safe.
"Han," Luke spoke up. "What is this room?"
"I don't really know. It's Trella's safe place. She brought me here. Trella?... Trella?"
"Han," Leia said gently. "There is no one else in this room."
"There has to be," he insisted. "Trella is the little girl who brought me here." Han turned around and called again, "Trella? These are my friends. You don't have to hide."
Luke put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Han, I'm really sorry, but there's no little girl in this room. I would sense her, even if she were hiding somewhere. I could sense you were behind this door, but I never felt anyone else."
Han took a step back from Luke, frowning. "I'm not lying. She was here."
"I believe you, Han," Leia said soothingly, as she exchanged a worried look with her brother. It was very possible, Leia believed, that Han was having hallucinations brought on by the blow to his head and his near drowning. She didn't want to upset him further by expressing her doubts about the little girl.
"No, you don't," Han argued. "You think I'm crazy."
"No one thinks you're crazy, Han," Luke said softly. "I believe someone or something brought you here, and for a reason."
Luke went over to a shelf while Leia insisted that Han sit back down, even as he continued to insist that Trella was real. The Jedi picked up a blue-green iridescent cube about five inches across, and turned it over in his hand, regarding it thoughtfully. Shaking his head in puzzlement, Luke placed the cube on a table. A light shot up from the cube and an image of a robed human female Jedi appeared. Luke stepped back in surprise and Leia stopped fussing over Han to stare at the holo-image. The image spoke, "Class, this is the history of Jedi Kinl Lezbroz, a Weequay from Coruscant. We begin his story when.."
Trembling, Luke picked the cube up and the image disappeared. Luke picked up a second cube and placed it on the table. This time he felt no surprise as a second image of a long-ago Jedi appeared and began to lecture about another Jedi. He turned to his sister and said in an awe struck whisper, "I think we just figured out what this room holds. It's a hidden library, containing a personal history of all the past Jedi."
Two days later
Han sat on the edge of the hospital bed pulling on his boots. He had not wavered in his belief that the little girl, Trella, was real and not a figment of his imagination. Still, he was reluctant to tell anyone else about his strange experience in the bowels of Coruscant. "Thanks a lot for telling Dr. Deckat about Trella. She only thought I was crazy before."
"Dr. Deckat doesn't think you're any crazier now than she did before," Leia replied, trying to keep from laughing.
"I still don't know why I had to stay here for two entire days. I didn't have anything wrong with me," he continued to grumble to Leia. "Unless this is the mental ward, and nobody told me."
"Honey," she said with a syrupy sweetness, "If I had confined you to a mental ward, you can be sure the walls would be well padded and the bed would come with straps."
"Are you planning on trying out for the New Republic Comedian of the Year?"
"No, I think you pretty much have that award sewn up, Han, " Leia answered smoothly. "As far as being locked up in this evil hospital, you had broken ribs, a mild concussion and plenty of cuts and scrapes," Leia answered his complaint while shaking her head in exasperation. "They needed to treat you with bacta to prevent infection from all those cute little germs and bacteria that got into your system when you decided to swim in a sewer."
"Hey!" Han objected. "Swimming in a sewer wasn't my idea. You should try swallowing that stuff."
"No, thanks," Leia laughed. Just the idea nearly made her gag. "I think I'll pass on that. I'm nauseated enough lately." She regretted the words immediately, putting her hand over her mouth - that was not how she had intended to tell him the news. She had decided to tell him about her pregnancy over a nice quiet dinner this evening. Leia hoped Han would not pick up on her miscue, but she had no such luck.
"What?" Han asked, frowning in concern. "Why are you nauseated? Are you sick?"
"I'm not sick, nerfherder," she answered gently. "Lots of women get nauseated in the first trimester." Leia watched his reaction with trepidation. The fact he was still adjusting to his blindness was the main reason for her delay in telling him about her pregnancy. Becoming a father would be still another huge adjustment for him and frankly, Leia was afraid all the changes happening in his life would simply overwhelm him.
"Tri..trimester?" Han stumbled over the word. "You're going to have a baby?"
Leia stepped in front of Han and put her palm against the side of his face. Her hands were trembling in anticipation of his reaction. "Babies," she corrected him. "We are going to have twins, darling."
Han threw back his head and gave a very loud, very happy Corellian war-whoop. Leia felt an enormous burden lift from her spirit when she saw he was thrilled with her pregnancy. Then he sobered, and frowned. "I always thought children should have married parents, Leia. I guess it's 'cause I never had parents growing up."
"Are you proposing to me, Solo?"
Han swallowed a lump in his throat. "I want nothing more than to ask you to marry me. But you deserve better than me, Princess. What can I offer you? I'm a blind ex-smug...."
Leia interrupted his protest with a lingering kiss. When she drew back she asked him, "Do you love me?"
"Leia," he answered sincerely, "If someone offered to restore my sight, but the price I had to pay was losing you, I would tell them to go space themselves out of an airlock in half a heartbeat."
Leia felt a rush of tender emotion sweep over her at his ineloquent but heartfelt expression of love. "Then you're offering me the only thing I want from you, Han," she whispered against his lips. "The answer is 'yes.'"
Arriving back at the apartment, Han was immediately enveloped by a pair of strong, hairy arms. "Chewie," he tried to mumble into the Wookiee's fur. "When did you get back?"
*Just a few hours ago, cub,* Chewbacca barked in joy. *I can't go away for even a little while and you get yourself into trouble! *
"Hey!" he managed to protest as he took a step back from his friend, "It's not my fault!" Everyone in the room burst in laughter, much to Han's chagrin.
"Lando? Luke?" Han asked. "You guys here too?"
"We sure are, Han," Lando answered. "I figured you'd want a report on our smuggler contacts."
"That sounds fine, but first Leia and I need to make an announcement," Han stated happily. "You want to tell 'em sweetheart?"
Leia put an arm around Han's waist and led him over to where Luke was standing. She wrapped her other arm around Luke, and thought, This reminds me so much of how we stood together on Yavin, after the Death Star was destroyed. So much has changed since then, it doesn't seem possible.
"We're engaged," she proclaimed with a joyful smile. Leia was quickly caught up between Luke and Lando, as they hugged and kissed her.
"Congratulations, sister!" Luke shouted in glee, slapping Han on the back. "I figured I might have to give Han a scare with my lightsaber to convince him to do the right thing!"
"Kid, I always do the right thing." Han shook his finger in Luke's direction. "Eventually," he amended.
Lando stood back for a moment. "The 'right thing?'" he asked, puzzled. "Am I missing something?"
"I'm pregnant, Lando," Leia answered. She didn't think it was necessary to keep this news a secret, now that Han knew. Besides, she didn't want to keep it a secret - she wanted to shout it from the rooftops. "With twins," she added with a grin.
Chewie let out another huge roar, and caught Leia up in an embrace, spinning her around. Lando just chuckled and said, "I guess this is double congratulations, then. Twins, huh?" he addressed Han. "You think you can handle twins?"
"After the other day, I think I can handle anything," Han laughed as Lando grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously.
After a few more moments of celebration, Luke suggested they all have a seat in the living area. Once seated in the comfortable and spacious sitting room, Lando cleared his throat and began his report. "Chewie and I convinced two smugglers to meet with you, Han," he said unhappily. "I'm sorry we didn't have better success."
"Two is better than none," Luke answered. "How many did you contact?"
Lando sighed. "Almost forty."
"Which two?" Han asked.
"Talon Karrde, and Salla Zend," Lando replied, carefully watching Han's reaction.
"Salla!" Han shouted in disbelief. He started to stand, but Leia put a hand on his arm and restrained him. Han sank back down in the soft cushions and scowled in Lando's direction. "Why in space did you even contact her? I could kill you sometimes, Calrissian!"
"Who is this Salla Zend?" Leia asked curiously. A simple observation of Han's reaction told her she might not like the answer.
Han's face flushed red and he didn't supply Leia with an answer, forcing Lando to answer the Princess. "She's an old girlfriend of Han's." Chewie added a prolonged woofing explanation, which Han stubbornly refused to translate. Lando only mouthed the word 'later' to Leia.
Leia rolled her eyes. "I suppose meeting old girlfriends is something I had better get used to, right nerfherder?"
"She hates me," Han groused. "There's no way she's gonna switch over. This is some sorta female revenge thing."
"What about Talon Karrde?" Luke asked, deciding to try and move away from the subject of old girlfriends.
"I don't know Karrde that well," Han admitted. "But he's a long-time smuggler, and well-respected among other smugglers. If he switches, it could convince others to try it."
"When can you set up meetings with these people, Lando?" Luke questioned the gambler.
"Whenever it's convenient," Lando replied. "I have their private contact signals."
"Let's wait until after the wedding," Leia suggested. "Things are going to get very busy, and I want to come along on these contacts. Well, one especially."
Han gave a snort. "I can't imagine which one."
"I'll bet you can't, dear," she shot back smoothly and patted his hand. Han just sighed and shook his head. He didn't even try to argue.
Six weeks later.
Luke escorted his sister down the aisle of the Great Hall of Coruscant, as guests stood on both sides of the ornate, pillared room. Leia was radiant, dressed in a shimmering ivory gown that sparkled with crystal beads. Han stood at the front of the room, looking handsome dressed in uncomfortable, but extremely nice, formal wear. A groomed and gleaming Chewbacca stood by his side.
Before starting her walk, Luke had kissed his sister and told her how beautiful she looked. Leia blinked back tears. "I wish Han could see me, if only for today." Halfway down the aisle, Luke concentrated. Using the Force, he projected an image of Leia into Han's mind. At the front of the room, Han tensed for a moment, then broke into a huge grin.
"Luke," Leia whispered. "What did you just do to Han?"
"I sent an image of what you look like, right now, into his head," Luke admitted under his breath.
Leia smiled. "Do you think you can teach me that trick? Someday I'd like to show him our children."
"I'd love to teach you," Luke whispered back.
Arriving at the front platform, Chewie gently guided his friend and partner to the Princess's side - then Luke and Chewie stepped back. The couple held hands and knelt to take their vows. Luke could feel the joy and love radiating from them. Life would never be easy for his sister and brother-in-law, but they would always have each other to lean on for strength and support. Life was so much more than just surviving - life was about living. He was certain that Han and Leia would give new definition to the word life.
Letti the Hutt watched the Holo-newscast of the wedding of Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo with disgust. The bounty hunter Dengar had failed him, and disappeared without a trace. This was a cause of great annoyance to the Hutt, since Dengar had come so highly recommended. The Hutt sighed. He had made such careful preparations in anticipation of 'entertaining' Han Solo.
Suddenly Letti began to chuckle, then his chuckles became great, deep laughs. After all, he was a Hutt. He had nothing but time, money, and a galaxy of bounty hunters waiting to replace Dengar.